Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly (review)

3.5/5 stars

Mark of the Dragonfly (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book that's quite good but feels like it should've been better.  The premise for the story itself is a great idea.  Piper is an orphan living in a scrap town working as a machinist.  The scrappers are the poorest of the poor.  When a caravan is destroyed during a meteor shower, Piper finds a little girl and rescues her.  She discovers an elaborate dragonfly tattoo, the mark of the southern king, on the girl's arm and starts on a path that will hopefully both find the girl's home and change Piper's fortunes. It's a daring adventure southward, through a world filled with danger and unexpected magic.

The steampunk-esque world (I'm not sure it's actually steampunk hence the esque) is elaborate and interesting.  Rather just dump the whole setting on us at once, the writer wisely reveals the politics, kingdoms and different people while Piper and Anna (the rescued girl) travel through the country on a train.  The world is intriguing and complex with many enticing mysteries still unexplained by the end of the book (leaving you wanting to know more).

Another aspect that worked for me was the friendship between Piper and Anna that blossomed throughout the book. The pair balance each other out, Anna is highly intelligent and Piper has the street-smarts. Whereas originally helping Anna may have had half-selfish intentions, they learn to love each other as friends.  That was the key relationship to the story, but that brings me to one of the book's biggest flaws.  There is a dash of romance between Piper and another character (which is obvious from the moment they meet).  The problem?  Both characters are just thirteen but throughout the building of chemistry, they feel considerably older.  It's not that they do anything inappropriate for their age, but the I've always thought that showing chemistry was more important than showing action in a book. These characters have great chemistry and the relationship is treated as more significant than their age merits.  What's weird is, I'm not even opposed to this romance like I often am.  It doesn't detract from the plot.  However, the characters feel painfully mis-aged to the point where it was distracting for me as a reader.  The interactions between these two read like 16 or 17 year olds when they're definitely not.

Aside from that, the book was pretty good.  At times it was slow, but I liked the character, the world and the storyline enough to trudge through the sections where it dragged.  It had enough twists to surprise me.  Overall it was a strong book, a nice middle-grade fantasy story with an original setting, an original concept of magic, which all builds and comes together nicely by the end of the book.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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